On March 29, the General Assembly voted to repeal North Carolina’s requirement to obtain a permit from a county sheriff before purchasing a handgun. The bill’s opponents, including North Carolinians Against Gun Violence and Gov. Roy Cooper, claimed that the bill would significantly increase violent crime by allowing criminals easier access to firearms.
That was four months ago, and as gun-related crime data begins to roll in for the second quarter, now is the time to evaluate those claims. Has SB 41 led to a widespread increase in violent crime? It’s still early, but based on the available facts so far, the answer is no.
(Thank you to the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office, the Raleigh Police Department, and the Durham County Sheriff’s Office for their assistance in assembling this information.)
It is important to acknowledge the limitations of what this new data can tell us. First of all, each police department or sheriff’s office organizes its crime data in a slightly different way. Some list every arrest that involved a firearm, while others only report armed robberies and don’t publish other gun-related crimes. Moreover, some localities release quarterly totals, while others publish week-by-week reports. This, beyond the fact that we only have four months of data where several years would be preferable, makes finding a consistent trend difficult.
Most importantly, no localities that I have researched announce whether the firearm used in a given crime was a handgun or how it was acquired. As a result, it is impossible to tell with absolute certainty whether any increase or decrease in crime is a direct result of SB 41. However, we can still use this data to answer a basic factual question: Has violent crime in North Carolina substantially increased in the past four months? The data shows that this is not the case.
The City of Durham
The Durham Police Department is the gold standard for data on gun violence, with its website providing a weekly tally of firearm-related arrests. As a result, Durham serves as one of the best localities to measure SB 41’s influence. This data is displayed for 2023 in the graph above. The third vertical line from the left marks the enactment of North Carolina’s pistol permit repeal.
From Jan. 1 until March 29, the Durham Police Department arrested an average of 10.9 suspects per week for offenses involving a firearm. Following the repeal, this average decreased slightly to 9.5 arrests per week. As a result, we know that SB 41 did not lead to an immediate surge in gun-related crime within Durham.
Charlotte is North Carolina’s largest city and serves as the seat of government for Mecklenburg County. Its recent problems with gun violence by juveniles and the Department’s decision to crack down on illegal gun ownership make the city an effective testing ground for the consequences of loosening firearm restrictions.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department releases quarterly statistics on various offenses. Examining the number of armed robberies is the most reliable way to assess the extent of gun violence in Charlotte, since this is the only data set that singles out a crime linked to firearms.
In the first quarter of 2023, Charlotte experienced 308 armed robberies, and this number rose to 323 in the second quarter. At first glance, this would suggest that SB 41 may have led to a 4.8% increase in gun-related crime. However, this fails to take into account the statistics from last year. In the first quarter of 2022, Charlotte experienced 325 armed robberies, and this number rose to 408 in the second quarter, adding up to a 25% increase. As a result, while gun-related crime did rise following the enactment of the pistol permit repeal, it is unlikely that the repeal was the cause, since this increase occurred at a much slower rate than in the previous year.
Cabarrus County: The suburbs
Cabarrus is North Carolina’s ninth-largest county by population and is a suburb of Charlotte. Last week, I contacted the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office to request data and was kindly sent all available information on the county’s gun-related crime rate. Cabarrus does not release a list of all arrests involving a firearm, but the sheriff’s office was able to provide me with the number of armed robberies that occur in Cabarrus’ unincorporated areas per month. There was one armed robbery in February, one in May, and one in June. This indicates a slight increase in gun-related crime within Cabarrus County following the enactment of SB 41.
This data is a little murky, as mentioned before, and deserves further investigation. Firearm-related offenses fell in Durham, but rose slightly in Charlotte and Cabarrus County. However, it is clear that North Carolina did not experience an immediate surge in gun-related crime following the enactment of SB 41. The public safety harms its opponents warned of were apparently overstated, or, if these claims were correct, the harms have not immediately materialized.